In the summer of 2016 Inter announced the signing of Gabriel Barbosa (Gabigol) from Santos in a deal worth around €30 million.
Three years down the line and Gabigol has returned to the Brazilian national team for the first time since May 2016 which came two months before that big money move to Europe. What has gone wrong in those three years to halt the Brazilian’s progression since his last appearance for Seleção Brasileira?
BURSTING ONTO THE SCENE
After breaking into Santos’ first team in 2013 aged only 16, Barbosa became one of the hottest properties in world football, making waves throughout football with his unique nickame of Gabigol and goal-scoring ability at such a young age. As the seasons went on around 2015 time Brazil’s Série A was home to two of the worlds most promising young guns in Gabriel Barbosa and Gabriel Jesus. The pair went on to play together in the Brazil Olympic gold winning football team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
With both of the young superstars attracting huge interest from the big European clubs it was only a matter of time before the two players made big money moves across the pond. Both made their moves in August 2016 and January 2017 respectively, while Jesus’s move to English side to Manchester City has proved to be very successful, unfortunately the same cannot be said for Gabigol.
Gabigol put pen to paper in Milan three days before his 20th birthday, causing a huge excitement and anticipation amongst the Nerazzuri fans, who have many fond memories of young Brazilian strikers arriving at San Siro.
The 2016/2017 Inter that Gabigol had arrived into was a complicated one. A Chinese company, Suning Holdings Group had just purchased a majority stake in the club and Frank de Boer replaced Roberto Mancini as manager of the club.
That season, yet again, was a disappointing one for Inter as most had been since the treble season. Frank de Boer was sacked in November, then replaced by Stefano Pioli. Inter were knocked out of the Europa League in the group stage and eventually a seventh placed finish in Serie A capped off another dismal campaign for the Nerazzuri.
Gabigol was widely criticised for not living up to the expectations that had been placed on him by the fans and the media. However what many people do not consider is how was he supposed to live up to those expectations?
In that 2016/17 season, Barbosa played 111 minutes of Serie A football spread over nine appearances scoring just the one goal. Many people would argue that this is nowhere near enough game time for a 20 year old, playing his first season in a new league, to prove himself to the world. The truth is, that it really is not enough of a chance and probably doesn't warrant the criticism that he has had regarding his Inter career.
The following season started in further disappointment for Barbosa as he signed a season long loan deal for Benfica but his time in Lisbon was cut short in January after four competitive appearances despite grabbing himself a goal.
Gabigol returned to Santos on a season long loan deal in January 2018. The move was the most logical one for all parties involved and he instantly found his feet again on home soil. Between January 2018 and January 2019 Barbosa played 35 games for his first ever club, and guess what happened when he played regularly? He scored goals.
Barbosa found the net 18 times for Santos, re-announcing himself onto the footballing scene after a very difficult 18 months in Europe. At the end of that loan spell in January 2019 Gabigol did not return to Italy, he in-fact stayed in Brazil but not with Santos.
Gabigol signed a one year loan deal with Flamengo where he still is now with his loan deal set to expire in December of this year.
Flamengo currently sit at the top of the Brazilian Serie A, eight points above second place with the season set to end in December. Barbosa has played a huge part in Flamengo’s success so far this season, with 18 goals in 18 games and also chipping in with four assists.
It would not be surprising if Flamengo tried to make the loan deal permanent but there are a few factors that could make that very difficult for the Brazilian club.
Firstly the price tag. Last season Inter may have been tempted to cut their losses and allow Gabigol to leave on the cheap, however after the impressive campaign he has had in 2019 his value will have almost definitely increased meaning it may be out of reach for Flamengo to purchase the striker.
Secondly, Gabriel Barbosa is still only 23 years old and still has his career ahead of him. Its unlikely Gabigol will be happy to leave his experience in Europe as it was, he will most certainly feel as if he has unfinished business in Europe and I cant see him settling in Brazil for the foreseeable future. It is very likely there will be interest in him from Europe considering his form in Brazil since his return in 2018.
One thing that does seem to be forgotten is that he is still an Inter player, and is still under contract to the Nerazzuri. Frank de Boer didn't fancy him and neither did Pioli or Spalletti but its likely Antonio Conte is aware of the form Gabigol has been showing in Brazil.
Its clear to see so far this season that Inter need just that bit more strength in depth in terms of the squad. Trying to compete at the top of Serie A, Champions League football and of course Coppa Italia requires squad depth. However Alexis Sanchez could need surgery after a recent injury on international duty with Chile, Mauro Icardi is on loan at PSG and looks very unlikely to ever pull on the blue and black shirt ever again. This leaves Inter with only Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez as natural and first team experienced strikers.
Inter will be unlikely to go out and spend a huge amount of money on another striker after splashing out for Lukaku in the summer. However they do have a striker with 18 goals in 18 games and a huge point to prove who is available to play in a few months time.
Its clear that Gabigol has talent and potential but is yet to prove that away from his home turf, this could be the season for him to do so, back at San Siro.